Ethnopsychology

Ethnopsychology is the study of alternative perceptions of the mind and its behavior. According to the vice president of the Ethnopsychology Association of South Africa, this area of psychology is the pursuit of alternative models to study and analyze behavior to more fairly represent the psychology of non-Western groups. The term is closely identified with cross-cultural psychology and can be subcategorized as part of the family of smaller topics in either social psychology or organizational psychology. Alternatively, it can be seen as foundational to another form of psychology. The concept of ethnopsychology is born out of the theory that the field of psychology is disproportionately and thus subjectively skewed in favor of Western perceptions and prejudices toward behavior. It has been charged that modern Western-dominated psychology has manifested itself in an over-abundance of research and papers dealing with uniquely Western issues in psychology. Due to this, theorists might say Western concepts overshadow alternative worldviews and likewise prejudice the analysis of certain groups. Additionally, ethnopsychology is considered an expanding school of thought within psychological anthropology.

Additionally, the emphasis on the individual in Western thought has been considered a major stumbling block to analyzing the thoughts and emotions of members of groups who could be termed to have a more "collectivist" orientation, in the common Western psychological vernacular, such as East Asian and African tribal groupings.

Ethnopsychologists would state that modern psychology is mostly a development of Western thought. Thinkers like Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud and the founders of the so-called major schools of psychology all came from Western universities and dealt with concerns immediate to American and European culture. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin identify ethnopsychology and ethnopsychiatry as intellectual fields that developed in response to the initial use of nascent psychological concepts to non-Western, recolonized and decolonized countries. These concepts, they argue, confirmed preconceived ideas that colonized peoples were inherently inferior to Westerners and would be incapable of developing independent, self-governing societies. However, sources from that time define a field of "ethnic psychology" that struggles to identify the relevant concepts and facets of different cultures, and it would appear there is little to indicate a subjugation of non-Western peoples to a different standard of analysis. Although race was considered to be an important factor more often in the past than it is today in modern psychology, ironically, the elimination of racial considerations might be due to American and other Western nations' hesitancy to use race to discriminate on a social basis. This is a situation that can make the Western conceptions of modern ethnopsychology self-defeating and counter-productive.

Critics say the United States has become the leader of psychological research and has a disproportionate influence on the field. It has been stressed there is too much internal focus on American and even "trivial" issues in American psychological research. Additionally, many articles outside the United States cite American sources in their bibliographies, demonstrating the extent of American cultural pull on international research. Further evidence comes from a lack of psychology students' international focus, for example in the general lack of foreign language requirements in American psychology programs. This has introduced an "English-only" phenomenon that has exemplified the commonly referenced problem of cultural bias and language-influenced culture in the American psychology classroom.

With decolonization, the rise in living standards for developed countries, and democratization, localized academics have been given an impetus to provide a workable framework for psychologists. Especially in regard to social psychology, a new framework may be necessary for what is considered normative and abnormal with the identification of key terminology relevant to subject cultures. Those working in divided societies, notably South Africa, complain that concepts relevant only to the white population hinder an adequate psychological analysis of the impact major social and political changes have had on the country's black population.

Colonialism is said to have had a significant influence on the development of several academic disciplines where Westerners were primary and non-Westerners were subject to study. A so-called Eurocentric worldview developed where Western cultural assumptions were normative, default and universal. This made other practices abnormal or undesirable and subject to change by cultural influence. This understanding involving Eurocentrism is central to the theories of post-colonialism, identified by several scholars including Edward Said. Ethnopsychology itself might be a misleading notion, as it could focus too generally on non-Western cultures on the one hand and on the other, undermine research by eliminating Western influences or Western research from consideration in the analysis of a given issue.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Culture in Mind: Cognition, Culture, and the Problem of Meaning
Bradd Shore.
Oxford University Press, 1996
Cross-Cultural Topics in Psychology
Leonore Loeb Adler; Uwe P. Gielen.
Praeger, 1994
The Senses Still: Perception and Memory as Material Culture in Modernity
C. Nadia Seremetakis.
Westview Press, 1994
Caring for Patients from Different Cultures: Case Studies from American Hospitals
Geri-Ann Galanti.
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997 (2nd edition)
Racial Identity Theory: Applications to Individual, Group, and Organizational Interventions
Chalmer E. Thompson; Robert T. Carter.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997
Personality and Person Perception across Cultures
Yueh-Ting Lee; Clark R. McCauley; Juris G. Draguns.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999
Stress and Emotional Health: Applications of Clinical Anthropology
John A. Rush.
Auburn House, 1999
Cross-Cultural Roots of Minority Child Development
Patricia M. Greenfield; Rodney R. Cocking.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1994
Comparative Methods in Psychology
Marc H. Bornstein.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1980
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